Running in cold weather with asthma can suck the wind out of your training, literally and figuratively. I’ve battled asthma since my early teens; some days, it is so cold that I step outside and instantly can’t breathe. For many years, my training would taper off significantly in the winter due to my asthma.
Asthma makes your airways extremely sensitive, and cold air is one of the triggers that can cause the airways to spasm. When that happens, your whole chest tightens up and you cough, wheeze, and gasp for air. I would try running in the cold with my face covered and only my eyes exposed, but breathing was still a challenge. I’d find myself stopping and coughing a lot. My inhaler didn’t help much, and the cold weather usually won. It’s hard to enjoy running when it takes so much energy just to breathe.
The first few years I was into running, I would just take the winter mostly off. I didn’t have easy access to a treadmill in those years, and the downtime didn’t bother me. However, I would run the same spring half marathon every year, and for a few years in a row, my finish time was almost exactly the same. The lack of progress started to get frustrating. I could see that to get faster, I would have to avoid such a long break in training.
Enter the Treadmill
When we built our first home in 2012, I was pregnant with my son Odin. This felt like an opportune time to invest in a treadmill. We lived in a rural area, I would be on a baby’s schedule, and the roads by our house in the winter certainly were not runner friendly. The other benefit was that I would be able to breathe easier and stick to a consistent running schedule all year – a first for me!
The first winter in the house, the treadmill was a life saver, as it was one of the coldest winters we had in awhile, and my lungs never would have managed outdoors.* For the first time, I could train through the winter without my asthma holding me back. This was key to improving as a runner and running the times that I now can.
Last winter I even did most of my Boston marathon training on the treadmill, including 22-mile long runs. Many people think that sounds like torture, but I didn’t get bored or struggle with the run. As a bonus, I could practice fuelling without my water freezing solid and take bathroom breaks whenever I needed to.
I love running outside, and wish I was able to all year, but for me, the treadmill is necessary, and my lungs appreciate it. It’s great to feel like asthma isn’t holding me back, and like I’m not totally depending on my inhalers (of which I have two: the typical blue Ventolin inhaler plus an Alvesco one to help better manage the disease).
Do you have asthma? How does it impact your running?
*This is Wintergreen’s experience and not meant to represent or replace the recommendations of a medical professional. Please consult with a medical professional before beginning or changing your training routine.